Dexter "The Dark... Whatever" Review: A Family Affair
This season of Dexter has accomplished a lot of things, but what I think I’ve liked best about it is how the show has been reflexive about some of the long-standing plot points and formulas. The most obvious of these is letting Deb in on Dexter’s secret and all the important conversations that have come from that, but the show has also interrogated or subverted other prevalent tropes related to its villains and Dexter’s relationship with his family. While the show probably should have addressed these things a little earlier than year seven, it's effectively destabilized a lot of the familiar rhythms.
“The Dark... Whatever” thankfully continued this trend by exploring what is really one of the dumbest things in Dexter’s DNA: The Dark Passenger. For far too long, the show has given its lead character carte blanche to kill a significant number of people under the guise of ultimately empty qualifiers like “The Code” and “The Dark Passenger.” Yet, I can live with The Code because the show has done a decent job of both explaining it and deconstructing it from time to time. The Dark Passenger, though? It’s just dumb. Always has been. It exists solely to allow Dexter to kill and then remove most of the responsibility; the Passenger strips our title character of agency and thus real consequences for most of his murders.
Therefore, no one was more excited than yours truly when Hannah called Dexter out for falling back on The Dark Passenger when in reality, he should just admit that he likes to kill (and more or less uses The Code to justify it). Even better was Harry’s incredulous reaction to Dexter’s assertion that it was his father who told him about the Passenger (it's tough to interpret those Dex-Harry scenes sometimes, but I guess in this instance we can assume that Harry’s confusion over the Passenger’s origins meant that Dexter knew all along that it was just something he made up, right?). As Hannah noted, the Passenger is, indeed, bullshit. While there is certainly something inside of Dexter that takes over when he decides to kill, that thing is not an external force. It is, as Hannah suggested, just him. He wants to kill. He likes to kill. He chooses to kill. There’s obviously something wrong with that in the strictest moral sense, but in this show’s world, it’s more progressive for Dexter to actually have to face the fact that he kills because that’s who he is.
I think it’s telling that Dexter had this conversation with both Hannah and Harry (/himself), because they're the two people who understand him, especially this side of him, the best. The show has done a fine job of confirming that Hannah is a murderer, but is also halfway normal (well, until this episode maybe) because she doesn’t hide from who she is. Much of Dexter’s story throughout the show’s lifespan has been about the tension between normalcy and his kills, and quite often he chooses his kills and the show lets him get away without much consequence. But Hannah is presenting to him an example of what can happen when you embrace the killer inside without, I guess, letting it totally subsume you. And arguably, that has been Dexter’s problem for far too long. By putting the onus on The Dark Passenger, Dexter can let his murderous side take hold and then suddenly, he isn’t responsible for what happens.
Giving the character this out makes some sense, if only because the show always wanted him to be sympathetic and cool in the basic-cable antihero kind of way. But over time, Dexter became a little too cuddly. If facing The Dark Passenger and realizing that it's total crap helps push both Dexter the character and Dexter the show to a place where there aren’t all these qualifiers and cop-outs, there’s a chance this could get even more interesting.
The big question, of course, is whether or not Dexter is going to buy into it. In this episode at least, he realized that he doesn’t really need The Passenger or The Code to make a kill when he managed to stop his urges from taking out the idiot who'd been burning people alive (and who was not, somewhat surprisingly, the creepy fire official), only to let them manifest with Hannah’s dirt-bag father. The Phantom definitely fit The Code and in this show’s moral universe, deserved to die, whereas Hannah’s father (played by the always-tremendous Jim Beaver), while certainly a manipulative, evil prick, didn’t actually kill anyone. He was just a scumbag. But because Dexter promised Deb he would stop cherry-picking Miami PD cases and because Hannah’s father threatened Hannah and her freedom, Dexter had a choice to make. Instead of following The Code or letting The Passenger take over, Dexter just did what he wanted, and frankly, what benefited him. He let fire-starter go to show Deb that she could trust him and he disposed of Hannah’s father because it, theoretically, protects her.
This choice makes Dexter seem less superficially “good,” but we are way past that point now, anyway. He seems more at ease with this sort of decision-making, which could just be a byproduct of his feelings for Hannah (L-word alert!) and could definitely cause problems in the future. Nevertheless, for now, I appreciate that the show finally recognized that The Dark Passenger needed to go.
Another big thing that this episode helped crystallize for me is how quickly this season is burning through story. One of my biggest issues with Dexter over the years has been how slowly the show's stories unspool, especially once it's very clear what was going to happen at every big turning point anyway. Last season was the epitome of this problem, when almost everyone in the audience figured out that Professor Gellar was not real in like Episode 3 and the show played it for a major surprise around two months later.
This season, however, has been very quickly and very successfully paced. Many of us were surprised when Viktor passed last week and just when it seemed like Hannah’s father was going to be a multi-episode problem, he was dispatched of quite hastily as well. Where that leaves us is both unclear and exciting. It's weird to not know exactly where the last two episodes of a Dexter season are going. Deb is still coming after Hannah, despite everything that she and Dexter have discussed in recent weeks, so that is definitely our primary thread. But LaGuerta’s 100-week search for the true identity of the Bay Harbor Butcher is starting to progress at just the right time as well. Thus, it looks like Dexter might have to make some pretty tough decisions to protect his past and his future, and with The Dark Passenger finally out of the picture, it’s very possible that those decisions won’t end up being the correct ones.
– Last week I suggested that maybe George and the Brotherhood might come after or end up in Dexter’s orbit somehow, but that’s not going to happen because Quinn up and shot George and then manipulated the scene to make it look like self-defense. Watching that scene unfold, with Batista stupidly and clumsily trying to make his way back to George’s office while Quinn had Nadia shoot him in the arm, was edited well enough, but it was simply so stupid I could barely watch it. The best part is that Batista knew Quinn was lying, but apparently chose to ignore it because dammit, he still had all those health code violations to fix at the restaurant.
– Though I like that LaGuerta and Matthews’ Bay Harbor Butcher search is actually going somewhere, their first exchange here had so much horrible exposition in it that I could also barely stand it. The point is, as always, I struggle to get through any scenes on this show that don’t involve the Morgans or Jamie in a bathing suit.
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